Record Store Day is coming up this weekend and there's been a lot of talk recently about whether it's something that should be supported or not. For me, I can say right away that buying records from small independent stores and labels is always a good thing. I might even venture out of my cave to pick up a few items. The nearest store to me, supporting RSD, is over an hour away. But I think it's worth it. Especially when there's Misfits vinyl to be bought. But back to the complaints. Here's an article on The 1st Five by Patrick McEachnie. He rips RSD pretty good in this one. I don't fully agree with everything he says, but I do see his side of things. Many people are genuinely turned off by promotional gimmicks like RSD. Make no mistake. This is a gimmick. It's a gimmick to get you to spend money in your local record store. But why is that a bad thing?
There were a few interesting comments on that article too. Carrie, who is an organizer of Record Store Day (is it just me or is like every person a co-founder or an organizer of record store day?), responded defending RSD of course. One of the things she made a point of defending was the pricing:
Yes, some of these pieces are expensive, and maybe some of them could be made less so. But a lot of these pieces require humans to do a lot of work researching, remastering, redesigning, and many more steps before they ever get to the vinyl process which again requires humans to use their talents, skills and time to create non-mass-produced pieces of musical art. Which many people appreciate and consider worth the cost.
I cringed when I read her logic. This is terrible reasoning that anyone with a brain could pick a part. Every release requires these things. Does she think that releases, not done for RSD, just appear in mailboxes mastered and beautiful? No, she doesn't. So why did she say it? Well, like many people in business, Carrie has no confidence in the intelligence of her customers. She thinks the customer doesn't understand enough business to be objective when it comes to the deep reasoning behind cost. So she dumbs it down for everyone. Labor costs money, and a lot of labor costs a lot of money, therefore we need to charge more. That's essentially what she said. But I can explain the truth behind the high prices: Fact. 9.99 for a 7" and $29.99 for an LP is rough as hell. There's no denying that. The problem is if you don't produce a lot of units, and you price them at your typical $4-$7 and $12-$15, you make very little money compared to the amount of promotion, planning, staging, etc, you need for an event like this to make an impact. You want a reward for all your hard work. You don't want 4 bucks a record profit for the stores and the labels. You want them to have a really good day. You want them to look forward to next year. You want RSD to grow year over year. That's the real goal here.
You might be saying, "If you kept the prices low, then more people would get excited about record store day cause they can afford it." Sure, that's a possibility. It's actually probable. But the problem with low priced limited releases is the risk in buying them is also low. This means you won't just have more excited collectors. You'll have more excited flippers. And as I've said many times, A flipper has more motivation than a collector in need of a full gas tank. What that means is a flipper's motivation is the buying and selling of records. A collectors motivation is the buying and shelving of beautiful objects. And the flipper wins this battle nearly every time. That's just how it works in the world of vinyl. So you have long lines, but no inventory. Dangerous combination. Not having enough product is the second worst thing in business. I guess we need to produce more records then, right? Reduce prices, and increase production. The problem with this is the only thing worse than not having enough product, is have too much product. You see the issue? Do you lower your prices, increase the amount of flippers and collectors, then take a huge risk by increasing production to make up for the reduced profit margin? Or do you raise the prices, have a healthy profit margin, reduce the overall market as well as your risk, have a really desirable release, but piss off a few customers? You see, you really can't blame the labels and stores for the prices. There's always going to be risk. The question becomes who's going to take the risk? Right now RSD is young. These prices push the risk onto the customer. It's called Record Store Day. It's a celebration of business. Not vinyl.
I do see a couple problems with the above logic. One is that since not everyone has a record store near them, the ease of the secondary market is usually a lot more inviting than trying to track down stores that still have the records you want. This means that flippers will never be completely discouraged by retail prices. There's just too many people out there who want the records, but can't get them. Labels have tried to neutralize this by making these releases available online as well. While this spoils the joy and reasoning behind Record Store Day, I don't want to see people paying triple on ebay just because they live in a small town. That's worse than not supporting RSD in the first place. Paying triple reduces the money you will spend on other records, which in turn, reduces the vinyl industry as a whole.
The second problem I see is something I like to call, "The Law of Sucks For You". This happens a lot with major labels. It's one of the reasons people think that Spotify will never be profitable. Basically it comes down to this: If there's no competition, then the person providing the product can just increase their price until the market cries uncle. In the case of Spotify, major labels provide the music, and Spotify pays them for it. But if Spotify decides to charge more for their product, then what stops the majors from saying, "You know what? That's a great idea. We want more now too." With no competition, Spotify will always be behind the eight ball. But seeing as how the major labels own a giant piece of Spotify, and recently the CEO of Spotify said, "Our focus is on growth," "That's priority one, two, three, four and five." Which basically means, they don't care about profit right now. Spotify seems content with taking investment, growing market share, and paying the major labels crazy amounts of royalties. Well this law works for physical releases too. If the majors know that you will pay 30 bucks for an LP, then they'll charge you 30 bucks. If they know you'll pay 60 bucks for a 4x7" Beatles Box Set, then they'll charge you 60 bucks. And if you complain? "Sucks for you".
Another interesting comment was made by a reader named Joe. He said:
Carrie,If non-indie stores aren't allowed to participate in record store day, why are major labels? It sounds like your goals are great, but major labels have completely taken over everything about record store day. If it is meant to support indie stores, why is it a vehicle for the major labels that waged a war against the indie stores in the 90s but now seems need them?
I like where Joe was going with this question, but I think he could have done a little better. The question should really be, why does the Record Store Day brand support major labels by promoting their releases, when every other day of the year major labels take a dump on indie record stores? The reason I think he should have went this way is because no one needs permission to release a limited edition piece of vinyl for RSD. However, they do need permission to be promoted by the RSD brand. Carrie didn't respond to this question though. And it's not just Joe and I asking this question. The answer is simple, and when you hear it, you'll realize why no one is speaking up. The reason RSD promotes major labels and artists is because they have the big titles. RSD wants the big titles to increase awareness. Therefore RSD wants the major labels. Promoting Record Store Day is pretty damn easy when you have Katy Perry telling all 42 million of her Facebook fans that she released something special for Record Store Day. That's ultimately what they want. They want to get this thing so big that the majors labels and artists have to pay attention. Once you realize that, then you'll realize this is about increasing sales. But once again I ask you, why is that a bad thing?